Do you pay attention to what is going on in the orations of Holy Mass?
It would be easier to do so if the translations were better.
They will be one day.
In the meantime, here is a crowbar for your own reflection on the prayers for Mass today, the some of the fruit of my years of work on figuring out what the prayers really say.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
deduc nos ad societatem caelestium gaudiorum,
ut eo perveniat humilitas gregis,
quo processit fortitudo pastoris.
In our Collect, with its roots in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary, we have a very nice eo…quo construction. Also, the genitives gregis…pastoris used at the ends of phrases help us to tie the last part of the prayer together conceptually as well as make it singable. We should always consider how these prayers sound spoken and, especially, sung. They very often are lovely little pieces of poetry. That dimension can be overlooked if they are merely read silently from off the page. Translators of the Latin prayers should, in the future, always say these prayers aloud and even sing them while working.
Societas indicates “a fellowship, association, union, community, society”. It is more than just an gathering or group, but rather is a group united for some common purpose. This is why I go so far as to translate societas as “communion”: not only are there Eucharistic overtones, but it points very well and with Christian vocabulary to the bonds that exist between members of Christ’s Body. True to the Roman spirit, humilitas has a rather negative connotation. It means “lowness” in the sense of being base or abject. On the other hand, the word fortitudo means “strength” in the mental or spiritual sense, rather than the physical. Rarely in classical Latin was fortitudo used to indicate mere physical strength. Thus, it means “firmness, the manliness shown in enduring or undertaking hardship, fortitude, resolution, bravery, courage.” Procedo means “to come forth” as well as “to advance, proceed.” In a transferred sense, it comes to mean also things like, “to turn out favorably for, result as a benefit for” someone or something. In English we have, for example, “the proceeds” for money raised in a benefit. “Procession” has come to have a theological meaning pointing to the way the Persons of the Trinity relate to each other.
Almighty and ever-living God,
lead us unto the communion of heavenly joys,
so that the humility of the flock may reach that place
whence came forth the might of the shepherd.
Here we have an image of the Christ as shepherd, proceeding forth in mighty resolve to lead the humble flock to the place of never-ending joys. This Collect reminds me of the mosaics in the apses of ancient basilicas in Rome and Ravenna.
These ancient works are wrought in tiny bits of colored stone and glass are assembled in to beautiful works of great spiritual significance. In a way, the Body of Christ, the Church, is rather like a mosaic: small members each playing a part to make a larger work, each stone (or tessera) serving to make the others more beautiful, each giving a purpose to the other as if they were members of a societas. Seen up close the individual stones are not much to look at. They can be flawed and unremarkable. But once that are placed together in an order by the hand of the artist, they make something stunning.
In those apse mosaics Christ is sometimes depicted in glory with imperial trappings. On either side are often arranged apostles and saints as His imperial court, bracketed by images of Bethlehem or the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem in the manner of bookends. Often in these mosaics there are gathered beneath the feet of the glorious Christ are lines of sheep being lead to a safe green place, where there is flowing water symbolizing the river Jordan and therefore our baptism.
Our Collect reminds us of the great work of the Savior in coming into this world. He has also promised to return. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, proceeds from the Father from all eternity. He also “proceeded” into this world in a mighty gesture of self-emptying in order to save us from our sins, teach us who we are, and lead us out of the doom of eternal death in sin to glorious happiness with God in heaven. He came in humility in His first coming, taking up our humilitas. In His second coming His aspect will be the perfect manifestation of fortitudo.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Almighty and ever-living God,
give us new strength
from the courage of Christ our shepherd,
and lead us to join the saints in heaven.
As Mass moves foward, the priest stands at the altar, wreathed in incense, the gifts on the altar. He sings…
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Concede, quaesumus, Domine,
semper nos per haec mysteria paschalia gratulari,
ut continua nostrae reparationis operatio
perpetuae nobis fiat causa laetitiae.
This prayer was originally in the 1962MR as the Secret of the Saturday after Easter. The far older Gelasian Sacramentary had this prayer on the Thursday during the Octave of Easter.
The renowned Lewis & Short Dictionary gives us a definition of gratulor: “to manifest one’s joy, i.e. to wish a person joy, to congratulate; or to rejoice” and thus a mostly late classical meaning, “to give thanks, render thanks, to thank, esp. a deity, = grates, gratias agere.” This leaves us with a dilemma. Do we say “grant that we always rejoice” or “grant that we always give thanks”? The dictionary of liturgical Latin Blaise/Dumas suggests in the first place “réjouir (des fêtes)” and then “render grâces”. Since we are in the offertory section of the Eucharistic (i.e. “thanksgiving”) Sacrifice, we could underscores the thanking dimension and also the joy due to the Easter season by saying “give joyous thanks.” Reparo means “to restore, repair, renew” or in mercantile language “to procure by exchange; to purchase, obtain with something.
The very interesting word operatio means primarily “a working, work, labor, operation.” It also indicates in ancient inscriptions, “a religious performance, service, or solemnity, a bringing of offerings.” The L&S also says that in Christian authors it is “beneficence, charity”. The aforementioned Blaise/Dumas shows that operatio concerns mostly divine acts. It can, for example, be the “effect” of the sacrament of the Eucharist.
By the English word “continuum” the seasoned Catholics understand “an uninterrupted whole or a series of things without a break”. Those of us who are of the Star Trek generation know that “continuum” refers to a time/space phenomenon which, though incredibly rare, figures in episodes about every other week. An imbalance in the time/space continuum will usually destroy the whole galaxy, which would be very bad. To prevent this bad thing the Captain and crew must “reverse the polarity” of a gizmo with a long name, often the big dish on the front of the ship. They have only five seconds left before the ship explodes and everyone everywhere dies. The unflinching Captain tells someone sporting a forehead with ridges or bluish skin to do an amazingly risky thing, which the first officer must passionately question. The risk works miraculously, probably because there are more episodes left in the season, and the time/space continuum is restored to its proper order. Everyone throughout the galaxy are until the next week. Now, you would think that after saving the galaxy, the galaxy saviors would get more recognition from saved. They should all be offered their own luxury resort planets or, if that sounds too much like Mormon afterlife, at least some stock options or a medal or… something. Maybe a high school named after them. I don’t get it. In any event, I digress….
Getting back to the liturgy of the Catholic Church, the Latin adjective continuus, a, um, also applies to time/space phenomena but in a somewhat less galaxy threatening way. In reference to space, continuus means a “joining, connecting with something, or hanging together, in space or time, uninterrupted, continuous.” In relation to time, it is “following one after another, successive, continuous” in the sense of unending or incessant. Something which is temporally continuous with what goes before is “immediate”. I will opt for continuus as “continual” so as to balance perpetuus, “perpetual”. When applied to the Sacrifice of Holy Mass, continuus connects us back to the Passion of the Lord while perpetuus draws us forward into the future until the Second Coming.
We beseech You, O Lord, grant
us always to render joyous thanks by means of these paschal mysteries,
so that the continuous ritual offering of our renewal
may become for us the cause of unending joy.
The bloody Sacrifice of Calvary occurred at a single point in the continuum of both time and physical space, upon a Cross outside the walls of Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago, according to some on Wednesday afternoon of 5 April 30 (A.D.). Similarly, the Last Supper occurred, historically, the night before. Nevertheless, the Sacrifice of the Cross transcends all time and space. They are “once for all time” events. Christ Jesus has made it possible for the same realities to be renewed and presented anew to the Father through the constant and offering (operatio continua) of His Church, His own Mystical Person continuing in this earthly realm.
Both the Cross and Supper still taking place upon our altars during Holy Mass, through God’s power, even though they are historically completed and past.
Holy Mass is both the Last Supper and Calvary continued and renewed. The first Mass of Christ historically began during the Last Supper and ended on Calvary. In the upper room Christ transformed the elements of bread and wine into His own Body and Blood in separate acts of consecration as a sacrificial offering to the Father. He commanded the Twelve to do the same, not just at the moment but also afterward in His memory. The Lord gave to them and their successors His own power and authority to do so thereafter. The sacramental separation of His Body and Blood in the upper room preceded their physical separation the next day on Calvary.
The transubstantiation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood in the Last Supper and the Sacrifice of the Cross are thus one continuous, uninterrupted act.
Thus we say that the first Mass began in the upper room in Jerusalem and it finished on Golgotha outside Jerusalem’s walls. Because Christ gave power to His Apostles to do as He was doing at the Last Supper, and in them also to their successors, in each Mass when the elements of bread and wine are transformed, the Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed as well. It is not necessary during Mass both to consecrate bread and wine and also to nail some victim to a cross. In the two-fold consecration, the entire Sacrifice, that which took place on the wood of the upper room’s table and the on the wood of Golgotha’s Cross, are truly represented. Look at it this way. The Last Supper prepresents the Cross, and thus is continuous with it. Holy Mass represents the totality of the Sacrifice, Supper and Cross together.
At the ancient celebration of a Passover meal, there were four cups to be drunk; one was consumed at the blessing, one for the beginning of the meal when Ps 113 was sung, one during the meal, and lastly one after the singing of the Hallel psalms 114-118.
It was the fourth and last cup that Jesus refused to drink at the Last Supper (“I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” Mark 14:25 – RSV). Christ finally drank the last “cup” of the Passover liturgical meal while hanging upon the Cross. He took the wine mixed with myrrh from the sponge on the end of the hyssop wood pole and then said “It is finished” (John 19:30) and died.
Some scholars, when trying to work out the chronology of the Last Supper and Crucifixion, posit that the Last Supper was a meatless meal, since – in some reckonings – the Passover lambs had not yet been slaughtered. Thus, the Lord would have been crucified at the same time the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple. The Passover lambs had to be slaughtered while the priests in the Temple sang through the Hallel psalms (113-118) three times. If they are right, given the empty streets of Jerusalem and the silence of the ancient world without machines, it is likely Jesus could hear the Hallel psalms and the cries of the lambs echoing from out the Temple as He suffered on the Cross. Jesus Himself was the unblemished Lamb of the anticipated Passover in the upper room as well as the Lamb of the perfect Passover of the New Covenant.
Regardless of the different theories of the chronology of the events, you can see the perfect continuity, the continuous character, of the Last Supper and Calvary. This is the perfect act of restoration of man’s soul to a state of justification and sanctity. It is the ultimate “reparation”. In Holy Mass, God in His mercy is still renewing the act of reparation He began in the upper room and completed on Calvary for our sins.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
restore us by these Easter mysteries.
May the continuing work of our redeemer
bring us eternal joy.
By His Sacrifice Christ reversed the course (the “polarity”?) of the human race which was hurtling headlong into the destruction and the hellish separation from God that sin deserves. He saved more than the galaxy. Now all peoples of all times and places have the opportunity of salvation, even though they have no idea of whence it comes. And yet Sunday after Sunday so many of those who actually do know Him blithely go on their way without so much as a “Thank you, O Lord, for the unfathomable act of self-emptying in the brutal, painful death by which you saved us from the hell our sins merited.”
In my opinion, the texts of Holy Mass deserve a beautiful and accurate English translation. Unreasonable delays do an injustice both those who mandated the translation and the faithful who await it.
On that note, let’s move to the Post Communion, which was not in the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum. Its roots are in both the Veronese Sacramentary and the Gelasian. If you read it aloud, you will enjoy the nice alliteration of the labial p’s and b’s.
POST COMMUNIONEM (2002MR):
Gregem tuum, Pastor bone, placatus intende,
et oves, quas pretioso Filii tui sanguine redemisti,
in aeternis pascuis collocare digneris.
It is now common to call Christ the “Good Shepherd”. In the ancient Church Christ was depicted as a young shepherd with a sheep over His shoulders. As a form of address, however, “Bone Pastor” was not so common in ancient times. It was used by St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) only once, in an important anti-Donatist sermon (s. 138) about Christ as the “Good Shepherd” (cf. John 10). After Augustine, it doesn’t seem to have been used much at all until the Carmina of Sedulius Scotus (+828 – not to be confused with the Coelius Sedulius (+5th c.) some of whose verses were preserved in the Liturgy of the Hours). St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) uses “Bone Pastor” in his sequence Lauda Sion: “Bone pastor, panis vere…O Good Shepherd, O True Bread”. This section of the sequence was once a popular indulgenced prayer during the elevation of the Host.
Today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because of readings from John 10. In the pre-Conciliar calendar the 2nd Sunday of Easter was of the Good Shepherd.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father, eternal shepherd,
watch over the flock redeemed by the blood of Christ
and lead us to the promised land.
The L&S indicates that intendo means many things, including, “to turn one’s attention to, exert one’s self for, to purpose, endeavor, intend.” Placo is “to reconcile” and also “to quiet, soothe, calm, assuage, appease, pacify”. In the participle form used as an adjective it is “soothed, appeased, calmed; quiet, gentle, still, calm, peaceful.” Think of “placated”. For grex we have the English cognate “gregarious”. A grex is “a flock, hard, drove, swarm” in reference to animal and, in a good sense or bad, “a company, society, troop, band, crowd.” In Latin ovis is always feminine and means “a sheep”. This is why we have a feminine plural quas for all us members of the flock. Fans of inclusive language should definitely complain about this, though I am not sure to whom.
Direct Your thought, O Good Shepherd, to Your flock,
and in eternal pastures deign to place the sheep
whom You redeemed by the Precious Blood of Your Son.
You can head the distinct echo of John 10:
I am the good shepherd (pastor bonus). The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (oves). He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold (ovile); I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” (vv. 11-16 – RSV).
I also am reminded of what the Risen Lord said to Peter on the banks of the Sea of Galilee: “Pasce oves meas…Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Christ entrusted His role as Shepherd, to Peter and the Apostles.
We need good shepherds, not careless, and certainly not wolves to guard us on this earthly pilgrimage. They must see to it that we have the nourishment we need, especially in the Eucharist. Much of our nourishment, however, comes from the texts of Mass, documents of the Holy See and teachings of Christ’s Chief Shepherd, our Holy Father. If shepherds don’t give us what we need, we suffer. The apt image of the wolf guarding the sheep is a very ancient topos in literature. The Carthaginian-born former slave and playwright Terence (+ c. 159 BC) had his character Thais say to Pythias, “ovem lupo commisisti…you entrusted the sheep to the wolf” (cf. Eunuchus 5, 1 16) and Cicero (+43 BC) ranted against Marc Anthony, “O praeclarum custodem ovium, ut aiunt, lupum… O outstanding wolf, as they say, guardian of the sheep….” (Orat. Philippica in Antonium 3, 11, 27).
We legitimately ask, who is guarding the accuracy of the document translations these days?
This Sunday offers “pastoral” images. The Collect says (WDTPRS translation: “Almighty and ever-living God, lead us unto the communion of heavenly joys, so that the humility of the flock (humilitas gregis) may reach that place from whence the might of the shepherd (fortitudo pastoris) came forth.” There is a thematic connection between the opening and final prayers.
In John 10 Jesus says He is the safe pasture and gatekeeper of the sheepfold. Remember the mosaics in ancient Roman basilicas and elsewhere whcih depict Christ with the apostles together with courtly sheep processing elegantly through a green pasture with flowing water (baptism) toward either the throne of the triumphant Lord or to the gate of the heavenly Jerusalem. The scene simultaneously portrays the end times and also this our earthly pilgrimage.
On a marble sarcophagus relief dated around 375-400 found in a cemetery at San Lorenzo in Rome, Christ the Shepherd delicately caresses the head of a sheep who gazes up at Him. He is flanked by Peter and Paul and the other Apostles, each with a sheep at their feet. The hand gesture with which Jesus caresses the sheep is the same as that used in ancient art to denote a master in the act of teaching. The Apostles’ hands are raised either with open palms, the gesture of acclamation and acceptance, or with the same teaching gesture, as if to teach in imitation of the Lord.
Like book ends around this main scene, you see on the left the shepherd with his sheep in moment of tranquility, and on the right the shepherd rescuing a sheep from a dangerous cranny while below another reclines, perhaps injured, straining to look at Him back over its shoulder. The sarcophagus relief demonstrates how the ancient Roman Christians received the Church’s sure teaching (disciplina) as an act of love.
In peacetime or danger, the Lord’s teaching remains a caress.
We rely on what Christ gives us through Holy Church. May we always receive what He and Holy Church truly desire to give.